If you don’t know what the Yiddish word chutzpah means, here’s a story that should give you the general idea.
On Tuesday, Aug. 28, a man called a Northeast resident and told him — in Spanish — that his PECO bill was overdue and his service would be terminated in a half-hour unless he bought a debit card, call him back at a Los Angeles number and recite the debit card information.
That’s some gall, huh? Well, that’s chutzpah.
The Morrell Park man and his wife saw through this transparent con right away. Still, they called PECO to make sure their bill was paid, talked to someone in the utility’s security department and then called the guy back with a few informally phrased remarks.
The intended victim had not followed the very specific instructions he had been given to buy a Green Dot Visa debit card at a local CVS.
The Northeast family was the first in the city to be targeted this way, said Ben Armstrong, a PECO spokesman, but the utility is very familiar with this particular scheme.
Since December 2011, “we’ve had seven people call to tell us they had been contacted in what we’re calling the Green Dot Visa scam,” Armstrong said. Before Christmas last year, two people fell for the ploy, he added.
Most of the intended victims were Latino PECO customers in southern Chester County, Armstrong said. One person lives in Bensalem.
They were called from a New York state area code and told their electric service was about to be turned or that they had account balances that had to be paid. They were instructed to go to local convenience or drug stores to purchase Green Dot cards.
They were given different numbers to call after the cards were purchased and instructed to read the numbers off of the cards. The con artists could then use the card information to make purchases, Armstrong said.
“Essentially, it’s stealing cash from someone’s pocket,” he said.
Armstrong said PECO’s corporate security department reported the scheme to authorities in Philadelphia, Chester County and Bucks County.
Mike DeAngelis, a CVS spokesman, said the drug store chain has heard of the ploy. It’s just one of a multitude of ripoffs but there really isn’t much CVS can do about it, he said.
“It’s not something retailers can get their arms around,” he said last week. “Customers don’t tell us why they are making their purchases.”
Visa has information about con games and tips to avoid them at http://www.visasecuritysense.com. The site also is in Spanish: http://www.visasecuritysense.com/es_US/index.jsp.
The Green Dot Visa scam is not the only one con being run on PECO customers, Armstrong said.
Another example is the “Obama scam.”
This one operates through text messaging or social media sites, Armstrong said, and the payoff for the villains has the potential to be much more damaging to a victim than the loss of a few hundred dollars.
Victims are told they can get federal government help paying their electric bills. All they have to do to get this mythical subsidy is provide their Social Security numbers or other personal information.
Anyone who gives up that kind of data runs the risk of becoming an identity-theft victim, Armstrong said, adding that PECO has heard about the Obama scam from two customers.“Never provide personal information unless you have initiated the call and know who you are calling,” Armstrong said. ••EndFragment